Ontological disorders: sleeping practices, psychotropic drugs and other materials beyond the Global
Session of the seminar of the Chair of Anthropology and Global Health with Cristobal Bonelli, University of Amsterdam, Nederland.
This talk explores several equivocations and frictions in the relationship between state healthcare workers and the Pehuenche population in southern Chile. In particular, it focuses on radical differences in understanding the body, personhood, sleeping and dreaming. In Alto Bío Bío, Chile, while healthcare workers diagnose their Pehuenche patients with ‘sleep disorders’ and prescribe them sleep-inducing psychotropic drugs, some Pehuenche persons fear that by preventing them from waking up, the drugs will render them unable to escape a fatal attack by evil spirits. The sleeping pills, therefore, enact understandings of the body, personhood, sleeping and dreaming that are not at all univocal. This enactment generates a controversy-inducing ‘ontological disorder’ base in an ‘uncontrolled equivocation’, as described by the anthropologist Viveiros de Castro, in which interlocutors are not speaking about the same thing, but they are not aware of this. In more general terms, I reflect on the application of psychotropic drugs premised on multicultural ideology (one nature, many cultures) in contexts where alterity is radically manifested and where the limits of the actors’ different conceptions of personhood appear in all their ontological splendour. In doing so, this paper problematizes the notion of global mental health, and illuminates the practical benefits of developing a sort of ‘indexical’ medical anthropology that focuses on ontological frictions.